Building Confidence with Horses
The first and foremost rule for overcoming fear is to take small steps – over-facing yourself creates undue stress and sets up more failures than successes. For those that are facing fear due to a riding accident begin with something you used to enjoy and continue on with that activity until your comfort level rises and your fear subsides. Many of your good-intentioned horsy friends will try to push you too fast – the “get right back up on that horse” crowd may have the right idea but every person needs to assess how quickly they go from simply getting back on to jumping that crazy obstacle that grows teeth and spews fire every time you get close to it.
If you are new to horses and trying to gain the confidence to move forward in your riding please make sure you have an instructor that is in tune with your goals and personality. Teaching is a combination of knowledge, the ability to impart that knowledge as well as the ability to assess the many varieties of personality types that this world has to offer. If your instructor is pushing competition and your stomach is in knots prior to every lesson this is not the right fit for you. No one has to ride horses anymore so there is really little need for unpleasant experiences to be the norm.
Whether you are a newbie or recovering from a bad memory the process is similar. Once you become comfortable with each previous step you must move on – at your own pace of course but move on none-the-less so that fear does not conquer.
So once you can face the barn and whatever monster has kept those butterflies busy a good next step would be simply walking either with your horse in hand or mounted. Walking is too easy you say – perhaps but it is a great time to relax and simply enjoy the company of your four-legged friend. Relax but do pay attention. Awareness coupled with relaxation can produce a more intimate relationship with your horse. Since you should not be in a hurry to get to the next gait, level, obstacle or competition at this point in your ascent from fear this is a great time to either get to know your first horse or to get to know an old friend even better. Stroke every inch of her muscled frame. Be calm and assertive and watch how your horse responds. Perhaps she is a bit ear shy – perhaps you’ve always been in too much of hurry to deal with this idiosyncrasy of hers – now would be a good time to develop that greater sense of trust she (and you) now needs. Go slow and enjoy every moment.
Once you are comfortable, and have learned a new thing or two about the horse with which you wish to share your world, take another step forward. Either mount up or trot on – in a comfortable setting and with no great expectations. Stay at this, again, until all discomfort fades. Take advantage of having no expectations to get to know more about the grand beast that has allowed you sit upon his back. Feel each muscle move, each joint flex and extend, the sway and rhythm of his body, even feel his breathing. As you concentrate on the horse make sure you are breathing in a relaxed and rhythmic manner – if you know any sort of yoga or meditative breathing exercises please apply them here. Assess your own body – no pinching, no tension, no apprehension. Stay in this relaxed place and continue to become more aware of the simple things. Be at peace and in the moment.
Again as each phase becomes comfortable move up to the next step and work with the same ideas. Awareness, relaxation, breathing, feel. Each step up will cause your confidence to grow.
At some point you will have to face your worst fear – whatever that may be. When you reach that point be it soon or months later come back to the peace of your comfort level. Step a bit closer to your fear and back away a bit less each time. Once you reach some level of comfort with whatever ugly thoughts fear places in your way then reach back to a place of less stress in your mind only. Think of the pleasant thoughts of hand grazing, brushing, walking over those caveletti, whatever pleases you most. Keep those thoughts in place and slowly approach that which makes your knees knock – push on – keep breathing – back off a bit – breathe – approach again and you will eventually conquer the evil scary business that fear can create.
Take your time and worry not what others think. A well trusted friend can help to push you forward but only if they understand and respect your limits. If you have such a friend and seem to be getting nowhere on your own listen to the gentle nudges of encouragement they may be offering – a kind hand to hold may be all you need to move on.
Fear can be disabling but if you are in no hurry and very determined you, too, can conquer this hungry demon.
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